• The space agencies of the United States and China are coordinating efforts on Moon exploration, as it navigates a strict legal framework aimed at protecting national security and preventing technology transfer to China.
  • The hope was that NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) could observe the historic touchdown of the Chinese lander on January 3.
  • NASA provided the planned orbit path of LRO to China, but it turned out the spacecraft was not in the justify place at the justify time.
  • For a number of reasons, NASA was not able to phase LRO’s orbit to be at the optimal location during the landing, however NASA was still interested in possibly detecting the plume well after the landing.
  • Science gathered about how lunar dust is ejected upwards during a spacecraft’s landing could inform future missions and how they arrive on the lunar surface.
  • Such observations could help astronauts prepare for future missions to the Moon.
  • NASA’s lunar orbiter will pass over the Chang’e 4 landing site on January 31 and will snap pictures, as it did for the Chang’e 3 in 2013.
  • The agency said significant findings resulting from the cooperation would be shared with the global research community in February at a United Nations space gathering in Austria.

What about the Risk of ‘technology transfer’?

  • Since 2011, the US Congress has barred NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from using federal funds “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.
  • Exceptions are possible, but NASA must convince Congress and the FBI that the activity would “pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company.”
  • The clause was inserted in a US spending bill after a wave of cyber-attacks that was traced to sources in China.
  • Sino-US cooperation could extend beyond the current lunar project, according to Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s Lunar Exploration Program.
  • The satellite in question aids in communications with a lander on the far side of the Moon.
  • NASA scientists had also discussed possibly placing a beacon on the Chang’e 4 probe.